The number of 911 calls in Guilford County has been increasing at a rate about four times faster than the population.
Since 2010, the county’s population has increased roughly 8 percent, while the number of 911 calls has grown 30 percent over that same time period.
In fiscal 2017-2018, Guilford-Metro 911 received 166,270 calls compared to 128,892 in 2009-2010. That means the call center has gone from an average of 350 calls per day nine years ago to about 450 calls a day in the most recent complete fiscal year.
It’s not clear exactly why the number of calls in Guilford County has gone up so dramatically compared to the population, but there seem to be many contributing factors for the increase locally – and nationally as well.
There is, for one thing, the growing ubiquity of cell phones. That means there are likely to be multiple callers for a single incident. Two decades ago a traffic accident might generate a single 911 call but now there may be five calls.
Also, with a larger number of cell phones in use, there are more “butt dials” to 911.
“We get a good number of cellular calls that are hang ups,” said Christine Moore, the operations manager for Guilford-Metro 911.
Also, increasingly in recent years, devices such as the Apple Watch make it easier for users to call 911. The new version of the watch can be set to automatically call 911 if a fall is detected.
Also, society as a whole seems to have gotten much more thinned skinned over the last decade. One only has to watch the news or google “ridiculous 911 calls” to find a host of examples of people dialing 911 for non-emergency reasons. Even one person insulting another or someone smoking in a non-smoking area might precipitate a 911 call in 2018.
There has also been a growth in prank 911 calls nationally including the practice of “Swatting” – calling in and reporting fake hostage situations or other major crimes that require a SWAT Team response. A Kansas case in which a victim was killed by a responder has made this practice better known nationally.
Guilford County Commissioner Alan Perdue, who was the head of Guilford County Emergency Services for years before retiring and becoming a commissioner, said that in recent years people have access to a larger number of devices that let them know more about their medical condition. While those devices might not necessarily call 911 after, say, running a test on a user’s heart rate, Perdue said, the devices still make people more aware of their medical condition and that information could prompt a user to call 911.